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DirecTV DSL customers get reprieve

The company's high-speed Internet customers are getting an extra two weeks to find a new Net connection, but the company says their time is running out.

DirecTV's high-speed Internet customers are getting an extra two weeks to find a new Net connection, but the company says their time is running out.

The broadband ISP (Internet service provider) originally planned to turn off service Thursday to any of its 160,000 DSL (digital subscriber line) customers who hadn't found an alternative connection. Only a third of those subscribers actually have canceled service in the month since the company announced it was leaving the broadband business, however.

In e-mails and postal mail sent to the remaining customers this week, the company said it is providing an extra two weeks, but that Jan. 31 will be the drop-dead date.

"We don't want people to go down hard. We're really trying to avoid that," said Deborah Mesloh, a spokeswoman for DirecTV DSL.

DirecTV DSL, originally an independent ISP called Telocity, was acquired by parent Hughes Electronics in 2001. Over the last several years it has become one of the largest DSL providers not affiliated with a local phone company.

Like other independent DSL companies, however, that has been an expensive proposition. Late last year, following the failure of Hughes' proposed merger with rival satellite company EchoStar, DirecTV's corporate parent decided the money-losing broadband operation was too costly to maintain.

DirecTV DSL has made arrangements with Verizon Communications, SBC Communications and BellSouth to hand off subscribers who want to go to one of those services. In many cases, those companies offer DSL at slightly lower prices than DirecTV had been able to do, Mesloh said.

Previous broadband shutdowns, ranging from NorthPoint Communications' DSL to Excite@Home's cable modem services, have often proven to be awkward and filled with angry customer complaints. Unlike those situations, however, Hughes is not bankrupt and can afford to extend its shutoff date to minimize some of the customer inconvenience.